The Curious Case of the Christian Love Affair with Josephus


Walk into any Christian book store and one will find the collected works of Josephus, sandwiched right between the commentaries of John MacArthur and some other Christian staple—be it “More than a Carpenter” or “Kingdom of the Cults.” Growing up as a PK (pastor’s kid), I knew and recognized this text sitting prominently on the bookshelf right next to all the commentaries, concordances, and Bible helps. This is not just a modern Christian phenomenon however. Even in the Early Church in the 5th and 6th centuries, monasteries began reading only the works of Josephus instead of the scripture.

For those unfamiliar with the works of Josephus, this ancient Jew from the First century wrote a detailed history of the Jewish People in the time of the temple’s destruction in 70 AD. But Christians don’t fawn over his works for this reason. In fact this curious love affair with Josephus is based on one single passage: his description of Jesus as a real and historical figure.

This is the treasure of Christian historical scholarship. The single most important non-biblical reference to the reality and identity of Jesus Christ.

And it is also a fake.

No doubt many conservative biblical scholars are turning in their graves, spitting on the floor in disgust, or tearing at their burning ears for making such “blasphemous” statements.

Indeed, many Christian scholars want Josephus’ testimony to be true so badly that they cry out and declare that some liberal Atheistic agenda propagated by the hippie college professors is behind the eroding of evidence for Christ’s true existence.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe Christ is and was who he claimed to be. I just believe that Josephus’ account of Christ is a forgery—an addition to his works by some well-meaning monk who could not bear seeing Jesus Christ slandered by such a man as Josephus and so tweaked the passage as he was copying it.

The passage in question reads as follows: “Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ.” It continues on to state that this Jesus was foretold by the prophets of old.

The problem is that these statements do not fit in the context of the passage. Following the his testimony, Josephus states, “About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder.” Curiously, the passage on Jesus sad nothing about an uproar or even a first “sad calamity.”

Later, however, Josephus calls Jesus the “so called Christ.” In addition, Origen—a third-century theologian—said quite clearly that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ.

It seems, than, that the passage Christians are so infatuated with is a forgery added to the text.

But why the love affair? Plenty of ancient sources and ancient historians have forgeries in their texts. What is so unique about Josephus that Christians would be upset. Is it really only about his testimony concerning Christ?

Perhaps a greater underlying question is, why is the testimony of the Bible not enough? For many Josephus is a mark of reliability. This passage concerning Christ is “real” evidence from a historian—the truth of the gospels much be trustworthy.

But the legitimacy of who Christ is and was does not rest on some historian in the first century. None of that matters. Both the scripture and the Holy Spirit attest to the truth of who Christ is—the gospel truth that he is the son of God whom died on the cross for our sins.

No doubt for some, however, their faith in the truth of the gospels will be shooken.

Revelations such as these call us to examine upon what are we resting our faith in Christ.

Is it truly the scripture and the Holy Spirit or some rationalistic “evidence” that “proves” Christ is real?


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  • Cherise

    loved this article!

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